March 11, 2013

Cornell Women of Color Conference Explores Race, Gender, Social Justice

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The Cornell Women of Color Coalition hosted its second annual Women of Color Conference — “Brave Bodies: Deconstructing Intersections of Identity” — in Statler Hall Friday and Saturday.

The conference began Friday night with a performance by artist-activist Sydnie L. Mosley and continued through Saturday with a resource fair and workshops on topics such as race and gender identity, women of color in the workplace, social justice and sexuality.

“Our conference is designed to create an empowering space for women of color and other members of our community to have candid discussions, hear from speakers and performers and participate in workshops,” said Jessica Guadalupe Perez ’13, publicity chair of the WOCC.

Among the 70 participants at the conference, there were members of Cornell student organizations and residents of the greater Ithaca community, as well as students from Wells College and Howard University.

In addition to attracting participants outside of the Cornell community, the WOCC executive board had specific goals in mind for the conference. According to Anna-Lisa Castle ’14, workshops chair of the WOCC, the group tried to expand upon the conference held last year.

“To build on what was discussed last year, we brought in topics of religious identity, gender and race in the environmental movement, in the workplace and feminist Marxist work. This year, a lot more intersections are being brought to the forefront,” Castle said.

According to Maya Mundell ’14, who attended both conferences, “The variety of workshops [this year] was more interesting. The relationship between the environment, sustainability and social justice is one example of the unique topics discussed.”

Castle said that WOCC aimed to present a wider variety of speakers and views than was provided at the previous year’s conference.

“This year, we brought in speakers with different research backgrounds and experience teaching and facilitating. There was more of a mix of voices represented,” Castle said.

Morgan Mathews, a junior at Howard University, lauded the diversity of the discussions at the conference.

“What I can appreciate the most were the different perspectives, the diversity of education and topics discussed and the practically of what was being discussed,” Mathews said.

Castle also emphasized the complexity of the issue of race in relation to gender, adding that this was a focus of the conference.

“In race-based or cultural affinity spaces, there’s not always a lot of room to talk about gender, and in gender-based or feminist spaces there’s not always a lot of room to talk about race,” Castle said. “Often, you have to choose which side of your identity to highlight, but the purpose of this conference is to create a space to empower women of color and think simultaneously in terms of gender and race.”

Participants reacted positively to the conference’s overall impact.

“The conference was very inclusive, empowering and interdisciplinary. I applaud [the WOCC] for that,” Mundell said.

Ideas have already been discussed for next year’s conference, according to Perez.

“People were already talking about next year’s conference,” Perez said. “It is wonderful to hear that the legacy, started by a group of students a couple of years ago, will continue in Cornell.”

Original Author: Lauren Bergelson